Washington, D.C. – Members of the National Capital Region Transportation Planning Board (TPB) voted today to approve the submission of a grant application by the TPB and the Brookings Institution to study potential public support for road pricing to fund transportation. The gas tax is no longer feasible as a primary source of transportation funding, several Board members acknowledged, noting that the study would enable them to learn about public attitudes toward alternative options.
“There have been many failed attempts to create transportation funding options,” said Christopher Zimmerman Arlington County Board Member. “We should not take potential options off the table.”
Several TPB members said that social equity and fairness need to be taken into consideration as part of an investigation of public attitudes toward pricing. “We need to take into account the lack of choice for public transportation that many of the region’s residents,” said Tony Knotts, Prince George’s County Council Member. “There are inequities in access to public transportation options throughout the region and we should not punish those who have no choice but to travel by vehicle.”
Fairfax City Councilman Dan Drummond, one of the dissenting votes, said his opposition was based on concerns over privacy and the study’s cost. “A study isn’t an act of necessity in a recession,” Drummond said. He also questioned whether it was appropriate for a regional body like the TPB to engage the public in discussions about fees and taxes.
However, without reviewing alternative sources of funding, such as road pricing, “we are consigning ourselves to continuation of what we currently have, and that’s not acceptable,” said TPB Vice Chair and Falls Church City Councilmember David Snyder. “This vote, which is not an endorsement of any particular pricing option, will allow us to answer questions about the concept and allow the public to participate in the process.”
The National Surface Transportation Infrastructure Financing Commission, in a February 2009 report to Congress, recommended moving to a vehicle miles traveled (VMT) charge within a decade because the fuel tax is “likely to erode more quickly than previously thought.” In June 2009, the Brookings Institution released a proposal for a GPS-based pricing system that would raise new revenues based on VMT, while providing a means to reduce traffic congestion and pollution and improve public transportation.
The TPB and Brookings proposal, “Public Acceptability of Regional Road Pricing: Can it be Designed to Garner Public Support?” is due to the Federal Highway Administration by November 3, 2009. The total cost of the grant would be $400,000, with $320,000 coming from the FHWA, and the remaining $80,000 provided by COG. A working group will be created to develop multiple scenarios for pricing. Focus groups and a survey of the region’s residents will be used to gauge public opinion on the various options.